David Doak and Steven Ellis have been making the headlines this week, revealing some unsettling details about developer Free Radical’s untimely demise. Ellis gave us plenty of background info about Free Radical in our very own Timesplitters 2 retrospective, which we posted a while ago. More recently, Nintendo Gamer freelance scribe Richard Stanton posted this lengthy feature on Eurogamer, which includes Doak presenting his side of events. Sad reading.
But before Free Radical, the pair worked at Rare during the studio’s glory days and were part of the team to develop one of the most important FPS games ever: Goldeneye 007. Freshly excavated from the Nintendo Gamer archives, here’s our Goldeneye history lesson, plus a selection of the game’s greatest glitches.
GoldenEye, along with Mario Kart, is the reason you still have your N64. It’s the reason you take the considerably battered – but still miraculously intact – machine out of the attic every couple of years, blow in the cartridge slot to magically make the game work, and then flick it on for a few hours of multiplayer magic with three friends, none of whom are allowed to play as Oddjob. It’s the reason everyone got very excited about the possibility of a remake. GoldenEye nostalgia is more valuable than, well, gold.
We don’t need to tell you why it was so good. You probably already know it was a mystical confluence of forces, from the game’s many innovative features to the simple-but-undeniable pleasure of seeing Sean Bean’s Northern head inside a game. What you might not know is that it was almost an on-rails shooter. And it was initially going to be on the SNES.
We’ll never know how that 16-bit shooter would have turned out, but it’s hard to imagine it being anywhere near as vital as one of the games that defined the N64. Despite the legacy, however, GoldenEye 007’s success was hardly certain at the time: the development team working on it were pretty inexperienced, and it did have that whole ‘movie tie-in’ aroma to it, a smell rarely associated with worthwhile games. Rare – known at the time as Rareware – had already proven themselves with the Donkey Kong Country series, but no one had made a good James Bond title yet. Hardly an auspicious start…
Double or nothing
To make matters potentially worse, the multiplayer mode – widely considered the best part of GoldenEye – was merely an afterthought, the bulk of its development being done by a single man (Steve Ellis). While he was busy, the other guys on the team were embellishing the film’s plot, adding extra locations and shoehorning in a totally incongruous Aztec level, seemingly just as an excuse to have Live And Let Die’s Baron Samedi in the game.
And yet none of this liberty-taking with the story, or the one-man-made multiplayer, stopped the game being a critical and commercial hit when it was released in 1997. It earned two BAFTAs the following year: one for the game itself, and another for the talented team behind it. A follow-up was inevitable, but as they had no intention of creating a tie-in for Tomorrow Never Dies (and as EA gobbled up the Bond licence soon after) what choice were Rare left with but to come up with an entirely new franchise?
The Dark is rising
Perfect Dark was GoldenEye’s ‘spiritual sequel’, words that here mean ‘we own the rights to this one, even if we haven’t got Bond’. Not only was its stealthy shooting extremely similar, but there were also characters and weapons that directly referenced 007’s finest console outing to date. However, Rare took the opportunity to make some bold changes to the formula. The protagonist was now a woman – still absurdly rare in first-person shooters in 2000 – while the game’s sci-fi trappings meant that pixelly blobs with Robbie Coltrane’s face on were replaced by secret agents and cranially bulbous aliens. A fair trade-off, in our opinion.
Although Perfect Dark didn’t have quite the same impact as its predecessor, refinements to the engine – and, of course, the limitless power of the N64 Expansion Pak – meant it featured some serious improvements, notably two-player co-op and a greater degree of customisation during multiplayer sessions. It’s probably in your attic as well, sandwiched between Blast Corps and Banjo-Kazooie.
Rare’s contribution ends there, but the games don’t. EA tried, and failed, to capitalise on GoldenEye’s success with the unrelated GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, while many former Rare staff went on to create TimeSplitters, which inherited GoldenEye’s irreverent spirit and excellent multiplayer.
As for the original, a licensing dispute means it’s unlikely to appear on Virtual Console any time soon, while the Wii game was a bit too different to be considered a proper remake. And this, of course, is the real reason you keep that dusty cartridge in your loft: because, for now at least, it’s the only way to play3 one of the most important first-person shooters ever made.
PREMIUM BOND: THE GREATEST GOLDENEYE GLITCHES
1. Paintbrush of death
This only works in the Dam level. Go unarmed, pick up a sniper rifle and press A three times. You can now slap enemies in the face with what appears to be a deadly paintbrush.
2. Licence to fly
Finish the Cradle level with the fast animation cheat on, and Bond will fly off at the end. Finish it with slow on and the whirlybird will leave without him. How rude.
3. The Amazing Exploding Bond
With the invincibility cheat turned on, let the one-minute timer expire in Bunker. Bond will now constantly explode, like the world’s lamest X-Man.
4. Floating ammo
Throw mines at all the monitors in Bunker and then detonate them all at once. Now all your thrown weapons will float in mid-air. We never thought of Bond as supernatural before.
5. Vent frustrations
To get back into the vent at the start of Facility, stand on the toilet, then hold R, right-C and left on the control stick. Don’t try this on a real toilet – only Bond is suave enough to pull it off.
6. Brosnan’s warped face
Not technically a glitch, but if you stare at the box art too long, Bond’s gun hand looks a bit like a flabby extension of his mouth. Now you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.
7. You spin me right round
Bit weird this. Approach an enemy, then tilt the game cartridge up and to the left for a moment to make them spin around like miniature black holes. We don’t know why.
8. You call that a knife?
With the throwing knives cheat on, look straight up, then hit top-C twice. You can now juggle knives like some kind of circus pro. This only works in a level with an open sky. So not the one pictured below, then.
9. Kill Ouromov
You can actually kill big bad guy Ouromov in the early Facility level. All you need to do is dual-wield two rocket launchers, or use the golden gun (and a hell of a lot of ammo).